The Democratic primaries may be dominating the headlines right now, but recent polls show that President Donald Trump emerged from the impeachment trial and acquittal more popular than ever. The strong State of the Union address delivered by the president days later has some of the president’s most influential haters shaking more than they are celebrating any buzz generated by the primaries.
“I thought it was his best week ever, and the most depressing week for me,” said comedian/ commentator Bill Maher, in an interview with CNN’s ultra-liberal analyst Fareed Zakaria.
The important questions are why the president’s popularity is rising, how long will it last and will the bump lift the rest of the Republican party to victory in 2020? With a total of 468 seats in the U.S. Congress — 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats — up for election on November 3, 2020, the entire political balance of the country is at stake.
As Trump’s job approval rating has improved, so has the image of the Republican Party. Now, 51 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, up from 43 percent in September. It is the first time GOP favorability has exceeded 50 percent since 2005.
Meanwhile, 45 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of the Democratic Party, a slight dip from 48 percent in September.
Additionally, the poll finds 48 percent of Americans identifying as Republicans or leaning toward that party, compared with 44 percent Democratic identification or leaning. Recent Gallup polls had shown a fairly even partisan distribution, after the Democratic Party held advantages for much of 2019.
“The other depressing thing about this week was, you know, Trump had his best moment, and the Democrats just look like a gang who can’t shoot straight, who can’t run straight,” Maher told Zakaria, “and if they can’t get their act together soon, it’s going to be over before it begins.”
Whether the rise in Trump’s approval rating and the Republican Party’s image is being driven by a backlash against impeachment, the strong economy or other factors may become clearer as the Democratic primaries plod along.
If it is mostly impeachment-based, his approval rating may revert quickly back to pre-impeachment levels, as it did for Clinton. Within two months of his acquittal in February 1999, Clinton’s approval rating returned to where it was before he was impeached, as did the Democratic Party’s popularity.
A seven-point average Democratic advantage in party identification and leaning in two early December 1998 polls (49 percent to 42 percent) swelled to an average 17 points (53 percent to 36 percent) in two late December polls after the Dec. 19, 1998, impeachment vote.
If Trump’s higher approval rating is being driven by Americans giving him credit for improvements in the economy, his support may increase over the course of the year, as it did for Ronald Reagan in 1984, Clinton in 1996 and Barack Obama in 2012. All those presidents held office during periods of sustained economic improvement and were re-elected with job approval ratings of better than 50 percent. The president’s approval rating is just one percent off that mark and trending up.
Anecdotal evidence must also be considered in making impeachment effect comparisons. The big distinction is that Clinton was in his second term and not up for reelection. The important similarity is that like the Clinton-era Republican Party, the Trump-era Democratic Party is currently in disarray.
During and after impeachment, The Clinton attack machine left a pile of Republican political corpses in Congress. The party was weakened and rudderless before George W. Bush came along to unify leadership and energize the base.
The current Democratic party is equally adrift. The volatile gap between Democratic presidential candidates, Democratic Party leaders and their supporters over how extreme the party needs to move left is damaging the party. Whoever wins this divisive struggle will emerge weakened to face President Trump and a historically unified Republican Party.
The candidate with the best resume is in a race to the bottom. A 78-year-old socialist and the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana are the two messiahs. There is no Democratic version of President Bush to come along and save the day.
During the doomsday interview, Zakaria prodded Maher with some other data. “Fifteen percent of the people who disapproved of Donald Trump voted for him in 2016,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” Maher interrupted. “I saw 44 percent of Democrats saying Democrats are going to win. No, we can’t.” Then he popped off on his party as to why, and his diatribe didn’t involve numbers.
“Obama said it — don’t do crazy stuff. Don’t say crazy stuff because we all get tagged with it. And there’s a lot of stuff in that blue bin that is crazy,” Maher ranted. “Then they go, yes, I don’t like Trump, but he’s right, I’ve got to vote for him. They’re nuts.”